Bhoga Nandishvara temple (Kannada: ಭೋಗ ನಂದೀಶ್ವರ ದೇವಾಲಯ, also spelt “Bhoga Nandishwara” or “Bhoga Nandeeshvara”) is located at the foot of the Nandi Hills (or Nandidurga), 55km north of Bengaluru (Bangalore) in the state of Karnataka. Although rarely visited, it has been identified as one of the oldest temples in Karnataka, with its origins dating back to the early 9th century A.D.
The entrance to the large temple complex is from the north perimeter wall, there is plenty of roadside parking and a few roadside shops where you can pick up basic provisions. The large compound is surrounded by colonnades with a few things of interest to see here which I will cover at the end of this blog. The entrance to the main temple itself is through an unfinished gopuram.
It’s been a few years since I have visited Karnataka, but my initial feelings upon seeing the gateway brought memories of Hampi flooding back, which has to be one of the most memorable and special sites I have ever visited in India. It’s a timely reminder as well that I have unfinished business in that great deserted city of the Vijayanagara Empire, I need to plan a return visit soon !
What is today known as Bhoga Nandishvara Temple actually comprises of a pair of main shrines built side by side. The north shrine is dedicated to Bhoganandishwara, the south shrine to Arunachaleshwara, each consisting of a garbhagriha, sukanasi, and navaranga.
The carvings and architectural details on the exterior of the temples, seen as you walk around the inner compound, and simply wonderful. Here there are pilasters, turrets, and exquisitely pierced windows with friezes of elephants, yalis and lions.
The perforated decorative stone windows which contain figures are particularly fine, including a dancing Shiva on the south wall of the Arunachaleshwara shrine, and Durga standing on a buffalo head on the north wall of Bhoganandeshwara shrine.
As with the unfinished entrance gateway, there is much here that reminded me of Hampi. As it turns out, this entire temple complex was significantly altered and enlarged during the the Vijayanagara empire in the 16th century, with further subsequent modifications by the Gowdas of the Yelahanka dynasty.
Within the inner compound there are a number of smaller shrines, not all of them I have been successfully able to name. In north-west corner is the Shri Girijamba Shrine, and set against the inner western wall is a shrine of Parvati.
The Indian art historian George Mitchell has suggested that the early phases of temple construction here commenced during the 9th-10th century by the Nolamba rulers of Hemavati. This is backed up by inscriptions found refering to the temple construction for Shiva which have been attributed to the Nolamba dynasty ruler Nolambadiraja and the Rashtrakuta emperor Govinda II, and dated circa 806 A.D. Dating evidence is further backed up by the discovery of copper plates of the Bana rulers Jayateja and Dattiya, which have been dated to circa 810 A.D.
This temple clearly played a significant religious and spiritual role throughout the centuries. The temple has been under the patronage of successive notable South Indian dynasties; the Ganga Dynasty, the Chola dynasty, the Hoysala Empire and the Vijayanagara Empire – each of which have left their mark on the temple we now see today.
Moving to the interior of the main temple, the southern Arunachaleshwara shrine is thought to have been constructed by the Gangas of Talakad, the northern Bhoganandishwara shrine is attributed to the Chola dynasty.
Between these two shrines is a small intervening shrine known as the Umamaheshwara shrine, in front of which is a marriage alter (kalyana mandapa) which is supported by some wonderfully ornate black pillars with relief carvings.
At my time of visiting this part of the main temple was quite busy, and being sensitive to photographing in such situations I didn’t linger long here. This is a great shame as the craftsmanship of these decorative features is certainly one of the highlights of visiting this temple. This is typical Hoysala architecture, very reminiscent of more famous temples such as Halebidu 230km east of here.
Each of the major shrines has a large linga in the sanctum with a sculpture of Nandi in a pavilion facing the shrine. The Arunachaleshwara and Bhoganandishwara shrines represent two stages in the life of Shiva; his childhood and youth. The central Umamaheshwara shrine has reliefs depicting the third stage, namely his marriage to the goddess Parvati. This shrine is popular with newly married couples who come here to have their union blessed.
The columned hall in front of the the main shrines is spacious, with each column carved with a host of images in deep relief. Again, more memories of Hampi come flooding back. Be sure to look at the floor as well, there are further inscriptions and images carved here.
In the main temple is another highlight of a visit here. Standing in front of the Bhoganandishwara shrine is an intricately carved stone umbrella, or chakra. This is probably the most recognisable image you will see from this temple complex, and is certainly an unusual one. Maybe this is unique, I’m really not sure, but I can’t recall seeing such an example in a Hindu setting anywhere else in India.
A doorway set in the northern wall of the main temple courtyard takes you to another smaller compound surrounded by colonnades. Here there are two structures, the Tulabhara Mandapa and Navaranga Mandapa.
Distinctive Yali pillars are abound here, one of the signature images that tells us that almost certainly these pavilions were built during the Vijayanagara empire.
In recent years the Navaranga Mandapa has become structurally unsound, so much of it is unfortunately now clad in unsightly scaffolding. I hope the ASI will turn their attentions to this structure soon as it’s a great shame to leave it in this condition.
I would highly recommend visiting this temple complex early in the morning if at all possible, the reason for doing so is about to become apparent. One of the many surprises of Bhoga Nandishvara lies beyond a doorway set in the north wall of this small compound.
If you are not prepared for this, it’s a view that can take your breath away for a few seconds. This large stepped tank (kalyani or pushkarni) is known locally as Shringeri Teertha, and is thought to be the mythical source of the Pinakini river, also known as the Penna, Penner or Penneru river.
Legend has it that the water found here was created by the divine Nandi, plunging his horn into the ground to draw out water from the divine Ganga.
Understandably, anyone visiting this temple will ultimately come across this tank which becomes a popular place to hang out, with the colonnades on all four sides offering respite from the fierce sunshine. Heading to this tank as soon as you arrive in the morning at least gives you a chance to photograph it before others arrive, if you are keen to photograph in calm solitude.
Apparently on festival days this tank is covered with lamps which must be an incredible sight, so worth considering if you are in the vicinity at such times, it must be amazing at dusk or dawn, depending on when the lamps are lit of course.
Leaving the main temple complex back through the unfinished temple entrance gateway, there are a few interesting things to see in the first larger compound.
A short distance away is a smaller stepped tank and a few minor shrines, in addition to a now ruined Mahanavami Dibba. This was a platform used to celebrate festivals such as Dasara, and was probably also built during the Vijayanagara empire. There is of course a very ornate version of this structure that can be seen in Hampi.
Next to the Mahanavami Dibba is another surprise of Bhoga Nandishvara, a heavily carved wooden chariot that I would imagine is easily missed by the casual visitor. It’s well worth a closer inspection, with some interesting images which include people being trampled by rearing horses.
Whilst I don’t think this chariot has any significant age, it has clearly been used for some time with evidence of older degraded carvings being refreshed with new ones.
Not too far away from Bhoga Nandishvara is the far more famous Veerabhadra Temple at Lepakshi, a fact which probably contributes to this temple being largely overlooked by visitors. This is a great shame as it can easily be reached as a half day excursion from Bengaluru, and is widely considered one of the most important examples of Dravidian temple architecture to be found in India.
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